What is Workplace Communication?
Workplace communication is the exchange of ideas and information between all the people in a company. This includes informal communication between employees and managers as well as formal messages shared from corporate. Workplace comms are also sometimes referred to as internal communication, employee communication, or corporate communication.
What Are Examples of Workplace Communication?
Workplace communication takes many forms. There are various types of in-person communication in the workplace, such as meetings, in-person town halls, other casual face-to-face conversations. But workplace comms also extends to our digital channels of communication, such as emails, chat messages, intranet posts, employee app content, SMS texts, phone calls, and so on.
Another way to classify types of workplace communication is based on who is involved. For instance:
- Executive communications are those that come from the senior leaders of the company. These communications are often top down.
- Manager communication is the messaging that takes place between managers and their direct reports.
- Bottom up communication is the messages and feedback that employees at all levels can share upwards with leadership in the company. This is often done through surveys, focus groups, or open forums like a town hall.
Why is Workplace Communication Important?
Communication to and with employees is foundational for many key performance indicators (KPIs). Although it is often difficult to calculate a direct return on investment (ROI) of workplace communication, studies have found that there is a strong correlation between great communication and:
- Retention: When employees feel they are able to communicate with their company and share feedback, they feel like their voice is heard and valued. Additionally, when people receive regular updates from their company that help them do their jobs and/or connect them to the greater mission or purpose of the company, this helps employees feel connected and like the work they do matters.
- Workplace Culture: Many workplace communication strategies include a goal of creating a more positive, healthy work environment where employees can thrive. Communication is one component of that because it helps to build trust and transparency. But workplace comms are also how a company can share information about the culture and ways to get more involved.
- Employee Engagement: How engaged an employee is helps with safety, productivity, profit, and many other important KPIs. And communication is a key way that companies are able to engage their employee audiences. By targeting and personalizing content to employee groups, you can inform people and give them ways to be more involved and invested in the company.
- Employee Experience: When employees are kept in the dark, not recognized formally, and not given the tools and information they need to succeed, this creates a negative employee experience. But by communicating clearly and regularly, we can create a more positive EX.
- Improved Safety: A huge category of workplace comms is safety. Being able to share safety information in real-time can literally save lives.
What Are the Main Barriers to Effective Workplace Communication?
There are many barriers to great communication at work. This includes language barriers, cultural/environmental differences, psychological barriers, and your Tech Stack. But the challenges can also differ based on the type of employee.
Deskless/Frontline Workers: These employees don’t sit at a desk for work. This category includes hospitality workers, healthcare staff, manufacturing/plant workers, logistics and trucking employees, etc.
- Because they do not work on a computer, this immediately creates the challenge of access to company messages and resources.
- Frontline workers may lack the technology to use traditional channels of communication.
- Some companies have a hard time targeting information to their frontline workers because they often do not have corporate email addresses or well-managed distribution lists.
Remote Workers: Employees who work at a desk but do not work at a corporate office.
- Remote workers may also lack access to some existing channels like an Intranet due to VPN/firewall protections.
- They may lack connection to their peers. Unfortunately, because engaging remote employees is more difficult, they get left out while in-office employees get more programming and resources. This can create a big cultural divide.
Office Workers: Employees who work at a desk at a corporate office.
- Although this might seem like the easiest group to reach, they can have many physical barriers to effective communication. Literally how an office space is set up can create a more positive or negative environment for communication.
- Too much technology (or the wrong technology) is also a big issue. Often, office workers will have the most access to channels because of where they work. When not managed and rolled out properly, this can lead to content overload and make it difficult for employees to easily find what they need.
How Do You Improve Workplace Comms?
Improving workplace comms can be done in a variety of ways. The best place to start is with an internal comms audit to determine what you are currently sending, to whom, and on what channels. This helps you identify your target audiences (receivers), key message categories, and primary and secondary communication channels.
- How are you communicating? Is it all one-way and top-down from corporate? Or are you able to enable two-way communication where employees can communicate from the bottom-up and middle-out? This lets employees more actively participate in communication and give valuable employee feedback.
- Who are messages coming from? The sender of a message is another criteria to evaluate. Are messages coming from the right person? Would they be more effective coming from a senior leader or a subject matter expert (SME) rather than the “internal comms team” or “HR”? Thinking through who a message comes from is a great way to add credibility and build trust.
- Are your messages effective? Whether or not a message has a clearly defined purpose, call to action (CTA), and context or “why” can impact how effective it is. Writing clearly, sharing the appropriate background information, and simply stating the desired outcome or CTA is a great way to start improving how effective your messages are.
- Are we effectively targeting messages? Are employees receiving too many messages that don’t pertain to them and their job? This can cause comms overload and make employees start to tune out messages from the company, which can cause them to miss important updates.
- Are the tools we’re using effective for each message/audience? Remember that just because a channel does not work for one audience, doesn’t mean it won’t work for another. Workforces are increasingly diverse, and it’s worth testing and surveying employees to find the right tools for each group. Also note that how you use a tool can make it more or less effective.
What Are the Best Tools for Workplace Communications?
There are many categories of workplace communication tool and there are many solution providers in each category:
- Peer-to-Peer & Collaboration. Tools like Slack help facilitate P2P conversations at work for deskbound and remote workers. Often, these tools are used to collaborate and get work done together without needing to be physically present.
- Mass Communication. Most traditional internal communication channels fall into this category. These are the one-to-many messages that a company might share. Channels for mass communication include:
- Employee Apps
- Physical Mail
- Print and Digital Signage
- Meetings. This is one of the most common but least tracked types of workplace communication. These include physical and virtual meetings and encompass all types of meetings:
- Casual huddles (can include “water cooler conversations”)
- Formal, scheduled meetings between individuals or teams
- All-team meetings and town halls
- Performance reviews
- New hire and exit interviews
There is no one tool that will solve all your comms needs. You might need a combination of collaboration tools (like slack) and mass communication tools (like theEMPLOYEEapp) to effectively reach all your employee segments.
How Do You Measure the Effectiveness of Communication in the Workplace?
How you measure the effectiveness of communication depends on your communication objectives. It is important to set your goals ahead of time so you can properly measure your impact and potentially alter your strategy in real-time.
To set goals, we like the SMART framework. This states that your goals should be:
- Specific. This is one of the most important parts of setting goals. Too often, we set goals that are intangible. We might know we want to increase app adoption, but if we don’t put a specific number to that goal, it’s impossible to measure and know what success looks like.
- Measurable. This just means that whatever our goal is, we can actually measure it. Often, you might hear people say they want to “raise awareness in a tool” but that is actually really hard to measure. A more measurable goal would be something like your actual number of registrations, which you can count.
- Attainable. While it’s great to shoot for the stars…you actually want to set goals you have a chance of achieving. 100% adoption might never happen (and that’s okay!). So, shoot for something that would still be a win for your company but is something you can achieve.
- Relevant. If you are launching a new comms channel so you can start communicating better with a segment of your workforce, you have to set goals that are relevant to what you are trying to achieve.
- Time-bound. This is the set period of time you hope to reach your tangible goal in. For instance, if you want to hit 50% adoption in four months, but you don’t hit 50% until the five-month mark, you would have missed your goal because it took longer than you were aiming for.
Based on the goal you set, you might collect internal communication metrics in a variety of ways:
- From your channels. Your channels can give you insight into who is opening content, what content is being engaged with, and who is an active user on which platforms.
- From surveys and polls. Surveys give you more direct insight into what employees are thinking and how they are feeling about communication and the business in general. By keeping survey questions consistent, you can measure change in sentiment and knowledge over time.
- From focus groups and employee feedback. Get more qualitative insight (as well as direct suggestions) into key topics using focus groups and interviewing employees.
What is Successful Workplace Communication?
When you measure workplace communication, it’s important to know what the end-goal should be. What does success really look like when it comes to communication in the workplace?
We think of this in a few ways.
Do your company communications achieve your short-term goals?
Essentially, are you successfully getting employees to take a desired action after each communication?
For example, if you create an internal communication campaign to get employees to change a process and successfully get the majority of employees to do this, that is a sign that your communications have been successful.
In contrast, say you have a town hall to appease employee concerns about layoffs, but everyone walks away feeling more uncertain and panicked, that would not have been successfully communicated.
Do your company communications achieve your long-term goals?
Every message has an effect, but how we communicate also has an impact over time.
No communicator would assume that a single message will improve workplace culture. No, something like improving culture or employee experience takes many messages over a long period of time to really shift. These are examples of long-term workplace communication goals. And they are more dependent on things like tone, respect, targeting, and personalization of messages.